Stephen Caesar has been an English teacher/tutor since 2004. He is former adjunct professor of English literature at Newbury College in Boston and former Senior Docent at the Harvard Semitic Museum. He has had two research articles published in the peer-reviewed journal The Jewish Bible Quarterly and two short stories published in Black Petals and Fabula Argentea.


by Stephen Caesar


Like an idiot, I went Jeeping alone.

I usually go with fellow off-road enthusiasts—or I at least have someone along for the ride in the passenger seat—whenever I take my Jeep onto the untamed, untrammeled Class IV roads of rural New Hampshire. Class IV roads are not maintained either by the state or by the town in which they are located; drivers go on them completely at their own risk.

If my brain had been functioning properly that late autumn afternoon, I certainly would not have gone on this particular road alone, especially given the fact that daylight was already dying, and I had no one to accompany me. None of my usual off-roading buddies were available, and none of my friends who did not own off-road vehicles but enjoyed riding shotgun were free that Saturday.

So I went alone.

As the darkness of the New England autumn began gathering inexorably, I continued ever deeper into the forest of pines and by-now leafless maples instead of merely turning around and retracing my route back to the paved road. Even once I had put my headlights on, I was still unable to clearly perceive the rough, uneven, rock-strewn path-cum-road ahead of me.

Yet I continued on.

And then it happened.

With a sickening, metallic screech that made my heart sink into my hiking boots, I felt the front end of my Jeep suddenly lurch precipitously downwards, as if I had just driven halfway over a cliff. When I grabbed my flashlight and hopped out to take a look, I realized I had done exactly that. As I splayed the beam of light below my front tires, I realized that my vehicle was leaning forward at an almost 45-degree angle, its front tires barely touching the ground below a rock ledge so perpendicular to the ground, that it almost looked like a wall made by human hands, and the vehicle’s back tires were hanging fecklessly in the air. The middle of the Jeep’s underside was balancing on the wall-like ridge of granite that I had mistaken, in the deepening gloom, for the merest ridge of stone in the road.

With ineffable disgust and self-remonstration, I crouched down and shined the flashlight up and down the undercarriage of the Jeep. The transmission and drive shaft were a total loss. Ordinarily, anyone who goes off-roading has a skid plate installed on the bottom in order to protect the vehicle's sensitive and intricate underbelly from exactly this type of catastrophe. However, on my previous excursion off road, I had damaged it severely, so I had to have it removed, and I had not yet received the new one that I had ordered.


Now I am alone and helpless in the near-darkness of the northern woods on a cold night in autumn. At least I have my cellphone and a heavy jacket on me, and of course my flashlight. There is nothing to do but to simply walk back in the direction in which I came, hoping that I will reach the paved road in a decent amount of time. I know I need to call my wife. But first, I realize that I will have to call the State Police and let them know what happened. With a heavy sigh, I take out my cellphone and dial 9-1-1. I know I will never live this down.

As the little face of my cellphone lights up and provides the darkening forest with a tiny bluish glow, a bizarre feeling suddenly comes over me. It is absolutely inexplicable: I can barely move, and the phone falls from my right hand with a disconcertingly loud metallic clatter onto the granite stones at my feet.

At the same time, my left hand goes limp and the flashlight falls from it, also clattering with unnerving loudness onto the stones below. Broken by the impact, its beam goes out.

The sun is almost completely gone, I am in darkness, and I cannot even remember where I am. What is happening to me? Utterly disoriented, I begin to wander aimlessly, stumbling over the bowling-ball-sized rocks that are strewn across the road. For some inconceivable reason, I find myself wandering mindlessly into the thickness of the forest. I can’t seem to stop myself.

I hold my hands extended in front of me like a zombie from a cliché-infested B movie, trying to shelter my head and face from the innumerable leafless sticks and branches that bar my way. There is just enough daylight left, as feeble as it is, for me to at least see tree trunks in front of me, so I swerve drunkenly to avoid them, but I am still wandering aimlessly through the New Hampshire woods at dusk in the autumn, with absolutely no idea where I am going, or why I am wandering away from the off-roading trail in the first place.

I continue blundering through the forest, shoving aside the branches and underbrush as best I can, making a fearful racket as I break dry twigs with my body and crush dry leaves with my boots. I don’t know if I’m getting closer to the paved road or farther away, so I come to a dead stop.

I hear something that makes every hair on my body stand on end and my blood feel as if it has turned into the waters of a frozen lake: the unmistakable sound of someone plowing noisily through the forest not forty feet behind me.

Every nerve ending in my body screams in panic, and my heart begins hammering within my rib cage. My mouth grows dry as I spin my head around and yell out, “Who's there?”

The sound of the entity somewhere in the darkness behind me ceases instantly. I know it is a two-legged something because I’ve been an outdoorsman all my life and I know the difference between a human being walking through the woods and a skulking quadruped such as a deer or coyote.

And this thing is walking on two legs.

Again I turn my head and call out over my shoulder, “Who’s there?” Then I add something that might garner sympathy with whoever is there behind me in this black woodland: “I’m stranded! Can you help me?”

There is no sound, no movement, so I turn back around and continue in the direction that I was heading. To my indescribable dismay and fright, the person/thing behind me resumes its frightful progress, making practically the same sounds I’m making as I push my way through the dry, resistant vegetation.

I stop again. It stops, too.

I whirl around in a ludicrous attempt to see what or who is following me, but I can perceive nothing in the gloaming darkness. Again I call out, this time trying to sound tough and threatening, but I have no weapon on me, not even my trusty hunting knife. I am essentially naked in the dark, and there is something behind me that I am powerless to identify. If the fight-or-flight meme is true, then my only option is to flee.

Once again I turn back around and begin heading in the direction I was going, only this time I quicken my pace, my heart racing madly. I can feel panic overcoming me as I hear the sound of footsteps behind me crunching desiccated leaves and an upright body shoving aside bare branches as it follows in my footsteps, quickening its own pace just as I had quickened mine.

I am like a deer being pursued by wolves. I try to move even faster, my arms flailing in front of me in an attempt to ward off the ceaseless barrage of twigs and undergrowth. I duck to avoid low-hanging branches and swerve to avoid tree trunks, which I can barely see in the grayish darkness of early night. Still the person or thing behind me comes on, keeping its speed on par with mine. I want to cry out, to call for help or to order the entity to stop following me in a laughable, feeble gesture of empty, feckless bravado.

The fear that is engulfing me is beyond my ability to either describe or tolerate. As if my situation could not get any worse, I now realize with unspeakable horror that the creature or human being pursuing me is not just keeping pace but actually gaining on me.

This is no helpful human being. This is something malevolent.

I increase my already hurried pace to a brisk trot, panicking but still cautious about slamming into a tree or twisting my ankle on some indiscernible log or boulder somewhere on the ground in front of me. But my hastened step is to no avail: the thing behind me merely increases his—or its—pace in a successful attempt not only to keep up with me but to continue gaining on me.

I augment my pace from a trot to a slow run, but all I am doing is increasing my chances of smashing into a tree trunk or, worse, falling down. If I sprain my ankle and come crashing to the ground, the thing will be upon me in a heartbeat, and I will be utterly helpless. My fight instinct suddenly kicks in, and I am filled with a desire to pick up a large stick from the ground and use it as a primitive weapon if or when my pursuer catches up with me, but to my dismay I realize that it is simply to dark for me to be able to look down and descry a stout branch lying on the forest floor, conveniently and considerately waiting for me to pick it up and wield it Neanderthal-style against my attacker. Knowing this with a sinking heart, I can do nothing but quicken my pace yet again.

My increased speed does me no good. I can hear the noises behind me coming ever closer—mercilessly, horrifyingly closer. I can do nothing but press on, plowing ever forward with no certain knowledge of where I am headed, trying in vain to put distance between me and whatever nightmarish thing is after me. The darkness deepens; it is as if I am a blind man blundering his way through the forest at close to top speed, hopelessly unaware of where he is going or what obstacle will suddenly materialize in front of him. I am mad with terror.

The thing is nearly upon me. Will its malevolent, bestial hands reach out and grab me, pulling me down to the dry forest floor to an unknown fate? I bolt forward even faster, any tree trunk in front of me be damned. I hold up my right arm in front of my face, bent at the elbow, to protect me from the barrage of twigs and naked branches that lash my face with nonsentient cruelty.

I wave my left arm behind me in a pitifully infantile attempt to ward off the charging fiend that is almost upon me. The stings and lacerations of the branches are nothing compared to what I imagine that unseen monstrosity behind me could possibly do to me. I continue to careen forward, my body buffeted by countless branches and the trunks of saplings. But no matter how quickly I charge through this woody growth, nothing deters my pursuer.

Closer. He—it—is getting closer. There is simply nothing I can do. Nothing. I will die soon. I will run headlong into a tree trunk; I will fall into a gully; I will trip over a fallen log. I cannot see in front of me; I cannot see what or who is behind me.

Now, an even worse sensation shoots through me like a lightning bolt: I feel the unknown creature’s hand grasp my jacket. It plucks at my garment, loses its foul grip, then resumes its clutch and takes a firmer hold. I buck forward, trying to free myself from this revolting abomination that will not let go of my clothing. My life will end in violent agony. I have no hope.

Suddenly I step onto something hard and smooth, and the constant whipping of my face and body by the leafless branches ceases abruptly. Simultaneously, the hellish grip on the back of my jacket releases me. As I continue to gallop forward several steps, I suddenly realize, despite the inky darkness of the autumn night, that I am standing on pavement. I have reached the state road.

I am safe! But wait…it is pitch black. It is cold. I am without transportation. I am without communication. And I am alone.

Still, civilization has to be close. I begin to walk, welcoming the sound of my steps on the blacktop. And then I hear footsteps behind me.